When Nancy Montella and her husband decided to move to the North Fork, gardening was part of the plan. They bought a home in Southold with views of cattle and sheep grazing on a neighboring farm, and more than an acre of cleared land out back. And although she had gardened a little in Massapequa, Montella “didn’t know where to begin.
Then she started seeing Kirsten and Paul Kesicki’s green and delicious-looking Instagram feed. Soon she had hired them to help her put in her dream garden.
Paul Kesicki grew up in a gardening family in Dix Hills, Kirsten in Boca Raton, Fla., with a mother who grew only roses. They met at the University of Miami, started careers in New York City, discovered the North Fork, and bought a house in 2014 where they planted their first garden together.
“Tomatoes, cucumbers, radish, a bunch of herbs,” Paul said of that first effort. “We put some plastic deer fence around it, but the rabbits chewed right through the plastic.”
Yet the garden was the focal point of their home. They noticed when friends came out to visit, they wanted to go out and see the garden first thing.
Along came their daughters, now 3 and 6, and the garden became even more important. Out their back door, the garden became a green school in the yard, connecting the girls to nature, and demonstrating how good food comes from the land. Each of their daughters has her own area to plant, and when it’s time to harvest, they compete with the birds and rabbits to get to the produce first.
“It’s amazing what they will eat right out of the garden,” Kirsten said. “They go out and forage, they wait and wait for the blueberries to be ripe.”
The Kesickis launched Yard Crop in fall 2020 — when it was becoming clear that the pandemic would not go away quickly. The idea of an outdoor space for growing food and building community resonated with a lot of people. Yard Crop is now entering its second full planting season having helped more than 20 North Fork gardeners design, install and maintain a garden in their first season, with even more interest in the season coming up. The Kesickis’ dream is to make their brand of gardening accessible to anyone with a little yard space and a hankering for connection.
Yard Crop gardens use raised beds designed and constructed by Paul; beautiful cedar boxes that don’t require as much stooping as planting on the ground does. They plan their gardens using the square-foot method, a gardening technique that divides the beds into one-foot squares, which can be planted densely and managed individually. They’ve adapted square-foot gardening for their clients by creating a menu of crops from which they can pick what they want to grow in the space and conditions of their yard. Kirsten says they want to help clients grow the foods they want.
“We even have a client that really wants citrus, and we’re going to help her build a greenhouse,” she said.
They’ve seen the way homegrown food gives meaning to the people who raise it, and how that meaning can be therapeutic, especially in difficult times.
“Something that we have seen that has been really fulfilling for us is that each garden seems to have a special purpose,”said. “That’s been really beautiful to see.”
Last year Kirsten built a lot of vegetable gardens for Northforkers with the desire and wherewithal to grow their own food. But of all the gardens she’s planning this spring, the one that really makes her eyes shine is the one she and Paul are designing and building for the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation’s new Southold campus. CAST’s mission is to help people in need become self-sufficient and resilient and there’s nothing like knowing how to raise your own food to banish food insecurity.
They will launch a crowdfunding campaign to pay for materials to create the raised beds that will be arranged around a brick patio on the east side of the property.
“We are building community,” Kirsten said. “And helping CAST client members learn about growing food.”
Over at Montella Farm, as Nancy and her husband jokingly call their new home, the fencing, raised beds and drainage is in place. With her 23- and 22-year-old daughters living at home for now (the pandemic disrupted plans to move out) the garden is a welcome family activity, and her oldest daughter is planning to add some medicinal herbs to the crop rotation.
“I’m really happy. We’ve been having a ball.” Montella said. “Kirsten and Paul are just great. Anybody asks me about gardening, they are the first ones I’m going to recommend.”